HAMMOND, La. — Already the winningest coach in program history, Tarleton State Football head coach Todd Whitten reached one of the rarest marks in coaching lore – 100 wins with a single program.
The Texans (4-1, 1-0 UAC) held off Southeastern Louisiana (0-5, 0-1 SLC) 14-13 on Saturday afternoon at Strawberry Stadium in Hammond, Louisiana.
Whitten won his 100th at the helm of the Texans, now 100-51 (.662) all-time with the Purple and White, 125-79 (.613) all-time as a college football head coach. He is just the 12th head coach among all current NCAA Division I schools in Texas to reach 100 wins with one program in the history of college football, joining TCU’s Gary Patterson (181, 2000-21), Texas’ Darrell Royal (167, 1957-76), Houston’s Bill Yeoman (160, 1962-86), Texas’ Mack Brown (158, 1998-2013), Rice’s Jess Neely (144, 1940-66), Texas A&M Commerce’s Ernest Hawkins (132, 1964-85), Sam Houston’s Ron Randleman (131, 1982-2004), Baylor’s Grant Teaff (128, 1972-92), Texas A&M’s R.C. Slocum (123, 1989-2002), North Texas’ Odus Mitchell (122, 1946-66), and TCU’s Dutch Meyer (109, 1934-52).
“It’s a great day for our program – the 100 wins, that’s awfully nice I guess, but the thing I’m most excited about is being 4-1 right now,” Whitten told Tarleton Sports Network postgame. “I think this is kind of a signature win for our program right now, to come on the road here and win a close ballgame where we really had to pull our neck and anchor down and play hard, and we did.”
Tarleton has started 4-1 for the second straight season, improving to 2-1 on the road with back-to-back overall wins. This was the first all-time meeting between Tarleton and SLU, and already the Texans’ second win in Louisiana this season, as they won at McNeese to start the year.
Once No. 15 in the Stats Perform FCS Top 25 Poll this year, Southeastern Louisiana has lost six straight games, dating back to last season, their longest skid since 2015-16. These are unusual times for the Lions, who have been a powerhouse at the FCS level in recent years, making it to the second round of the NCAA FCS Playoffs three times in the last four years.
Tarleton scored all 14 points in the first quarter. Defensive back Blake Smith returned an interception for a touchdown on the first Texan defensive play of the game. Running back Kayvon Britten scored his team-leading sixth touchdown of the season on a 15-yard run late in the opening frame to give Tarleton the lead 14-7.
It remained 14-7 until the 5:17 mark of the fourth quarter. Southeastern Louisiana scored to seemingly tie the game, but the Texans blocked the extra point to cling on to a one-point lead. Tarleton refused to give SLU the ball back, bleeding out the last 5:17. After exhausting all of the Lions’ timeouts, Tarleton chose to go for it on 4th-and-1 with 1:29 left at midfield. The offensive line opened up a hole for Britten to power four yards to ice the victory for the Purple and White.
The Texan defense played lights out again, proving to be one of the toughest defenses in the nation. They forced three turnovers in the game, a Smith pick-six, a Keldric Williams interception, and a forced fumble and recovery by freshman Steve Albert Jr. They also forced a turnover on downs, forced a missed field goal, plus had five tackles for loss, including a sack by Kasyus Kurns.
Jalen Carr and Kyle Taylor each led the team with nine tackles apiece, Carr adding a TFL and pass breakup, Taylor a pass breakup and quarterback hurry. Patrick Jones had eight tackles, with a second quarter fourth down stuff to give Tarleton the ball.
The Texans had entered the game with already the most defensive touchdowns across the entire FCS on the season with three. They added their fourth in five games to start 2023 with Smith’s pick-six to open the defensive possession, returning it 23 yards to put Tarleton up 7-0 with 12:05 left in the opening frame.
SLU answered back on the next possession, driving 65 yards to tie the game 7-7 with 7:55 left in the first quarter, capped off by a Bauer Sharp 19-yard scamper.
On the Lions’ next possession, Tarleton’s defensive line tipped Eli Sawyer’s pass, and Williams came down with it for the interception at the SLU 46-yard line. Texan quarterback Victor Gabalis led them on a 54-yard scoring drive, with Britten scoring from 15 yards out.
It was all defense from there, until SLU’s Zachary Clement found Darius Lewis from nine yards out to make it 14-13 Tarleton with 5:17 to play in the fourth quarter. The Texans blocked reigning Southland Conference Special Teams Player of the Week Austin Dunlap’s extra point to maintain the lead.
On Tarleton’s clock-bleeding final drive, Britten and Derrel Kelley III rushed a combined nine times for three first downs to send the Texans back to Stephenville with the win.
Britten finished with 87 yards on 18 rushes (4.8 yards per carry), to go with his touchdown. Kelley had 71 yards on 16 carries (4.4 YPC). Gabalis completed 8-of-21 passes for 62 yards and an interception. Quarterback Daniel Greek led one drive in the third, going 1-for-2. Wide receiver Jaden Smith returned for his first game back since his injury at Texas Tech, finishing with three receptions for 38 yards.
The Texans now turn their attention back to conference play for a UAC showdown at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 7, at 6 p.m. Tarleton State hosts Southern Utah in Stephenville for their Legends Game, where the Texans will honor the 2002-03 men’s basketball team. Tarleton is 2-0 at home this year and 11-3 at Memorial Stadium since 2021.